To be honest, there are not nearly as many true MMOs available for your iPhone or Android device as I would like. It's a new market, of course, and the number of offerings is growing, but typically a lot of the MMO gaming you will be doing on your phone will be through your browser. This isn't a bad thing when you consider the quality of many of the browser games out there, but more MMOs cannot come quickly enough. So when I find one that I like, I would like to tell as many people as I can.
And when I find more than that, I have to say something about all of them. Normally I would do a report on each game individually, but in this case, I have not had as much time with each game to give a full and decent report. It will be up to you, fair reader, to investigate these games with me. Don't worry -- they won't cost you much at all.
The first game we are going to look at puts players in charge of their own ships and sets them off in a huge universe. If you've played EVE Online or have ever experienced an open-ended sandbox, you won't be too surprised by the gameplay in Outer Empires. What will surprise you is that you can play it while waiting in line at the pharmacy or while sitting in the dentist's waiting room. There is a full, real-time chat and everything you would expect from an actual MMO. The community is so far very friendly and open with advice, and new players can remain safe as long as they are smart.
My main issue with the game is how slow the leveling process, as well as money-making, can be. It will take you a while before you can afford a new ship and do other jobs besides transportation, but I imagine joining a good guild should help alleviate some of that. Anyway, who is going to complain when you can play from your bath tub? Not me.
Outer Empires also has a browser version that works wonderfully -- it's a good alternative for those without access to the iPhone app. Technically, you can use this browser version with your Android device, but some of the options, like picking up a piece of cargo and dragging it to your cargo bay, just do not work in the Android browser. Because of those small issues, I wouldn't try the browser version on your Android except for chatting and possible light duty.
Back in my day, we paid a couple of dollars for this fun iPhone MMORPG. Nowadays you youngins can get the game for absolutely nothing, so you might as well check it out for that! Yslandia is closer to a "normal" MMO than almost any that I have found. It has all the standard persistence, grouping, chat, and character creation but is set in a very unique world. The graphics are neat, and the lore behind the game is different and robust. I was surprised to see that the game does much less hand-holding than many newer MMOs, but it doesn't just let players go without any instruction at all. It strikes a good balance between many MMO genres.
One very neat detail of Yslandia is that it gives you the ability to create shortcuts for items and abilities anywhere on the screen. You can also touch anywhere on the screen to bring up a control pad. Essentially these customizations allow players to fit the game and the UI to their particular hands. I found that my thumb was more comfortable when controlling movement higher on the screen instead of in the lower-left corner. All I had to do was touch and move my thumb and the control pad appeared. I also moved all of my shortcuts to more comfortable locations on the screen. It works similarly to rearranging apps on your iPhone screen -- just hold down, wait for the wiggle, and place where you want.
I am finding a lot of depth and detail in Yslandia. PvP is a central feature, as well, so there is something for everyone. Since you cannot beat the price, look this one up on your iPhone immediately.
The Runes MMO for the Android platform is the only one I have not played yet. The website and short gameplay clips I have seen are very interesting. From what I can tell, the game pits players against each other in fights of magic, and players must be quick-draw artists, literally. You draw symbols on the screen to cast different spells in turn-based combat.
There's not much else to know about the game, especially since the website does not tell us much at all. The game is in development in the purest sense of the word, but so far it is more interesting-looking than many others that I have seen. You can download a playable beta, but be aware that you will need to enable side-loading on your Android phone. For me this meant downloading a third-party program that gets me past AT&T's safeguards, which stop unofficial applications from being installed. If it's on the official market, you're good, but what developer will put a rough beta game on the official market?
I was able to load it and get to the login screen, but unfortunately, the game server has been down for weeks due to several bugs. I've seen forum threads that promise the developers are working on the issue, so for right now, bookmark the website and keep checking back. I have a good feeling about this one.
The mobile MMO market is still so new that it is hard to offer choices that either aren't in development or are essentially browser-based games. I try to test as many as I can across the different devices that I own, but if you are a developer or know of a new up-and-coming game, let me know about it in the comments or through email. Browser games are wonderful and are blossoming like never before, but the truly mobile or app MMO market is still catching up. Between my iPhone and Android device, I feel more like a console gamer who is hoping that his next favorite title is not an exclusive. I truly believe that one day this will not be an issue.
So go dive into Yslandia and Outer Empires. Both are fantastic and fully realized, perfect for playing while on a lunch break or a long trip. If the mobile market continues to make more of these games and picks up the pace, it will certainly give the PC and handhelds a run for their money.
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr.